Here Are The Bear Facts

California’s state flag features a grizzly bear, an animal that once was common in our state:

But before the flag, back in 1889, a grizzly bear was used in a publicity stunt by William Randolph Hearst, a wealthy businessman, newspaper publisher and politician. 

Two years earlier, when he was 23, Hearst’s father had given him a newspaper to run – the San Francisco Examiner:  

And Hearst, who never met a situation he couldn’t exploit for his own benefit – and profit – saw an opportunity.

The story goes that Hearst got into a heated debate with one of his reporters over whether there were still any grizzlies in California.  The reporter, Allen Kelly, said there were.  Hearst insisted there weren’t.

Hearst ended the argument by challenging Kelly to go out, find a grizzly, and bring it back – alive – to San Francisco.  Hearst gave Kelly a blank check, plenty of staff, and plenty of publicity with updates like this one from Kelly:

After nearly six months, Kelly and his compatriots captured a grizzly, and Hearst’s newspaper headline read…

“He Was Trapped in Ventura County After a Terrific Struggle and Secured with Massive Iron Chains – It Was a Hard Battle but Not a Man was Hurt – The Long Journey Over Almost Impassable Mountains Before He Was Safely Landed in San Francisco”

A crowd of 20,000 was waiting at the San Francisco train depot to greet the conquering hero and the grizzly.  Hearst’s publicity-hungry heart was appeased – for the moment – and the bear, now named Monarch, would be in captivity, on view, for 22 years until his death.

Monarch was used as the model for the state flag image, and the grizzly bear was named California’s official state animal in 1953, long after grizzlies had become extinct in this state.

Hearst would go on to run – unsuccessfully – for President of the United States in 1904, Mayor of New York City in 1905 and 1909, and for Governor of New York in 1906.

Now let’s fast forward, and meet another California politician who’s using a bear for publicity:

John Cox, like Hearst, is also a wealthy businessman, and like Hearst, has also run – unsuccessfully – for several political offices, including President in 2008. 

His most recent run was for California Governor, which he lost to Democrat Gavin Newson in the state’s biggest gubernatorial landslide since 1950.

Now Governor Newsom is facing a recall vote, financed by what appears to be a bunch of rich, disgruntled Republicans, a number of whom were also Trump backers.

At present the Republican recall candidates include Mary Ellen Cook, a former pornographic film actress; Angelyne, a former Los Angeles billboard model; Kevin Faulconer, a former San Diego mayor; Doug Ose, a former California congressman; Caitlyn Jenner, a former male Olympic gold medalist and reality show celebrity, now a transgender activist…

Top, left to right: Faulconer, Cox, Ose; bottom, left to right: Jenner, Angelyne, Cook.

And John Cox.

And his bear:

As you can see on Cox’s bus, his campaign slogan is “Meet the Beast.”

For clarification, I visited the Cox for Governor website, where an almost-three-minute video disparages Newsom for being the “Beauty”:

Apparently equating “beauty” with “all thinigs horrible”:

While Cox – I guess – is the “Beast”:

Because we need “beastly change”:

The video winds down by asking us, “You want beauty?  Or a ball-busting beast…” and exhorting us to “Recall the beauty.  And elect the nicest, smartest beast you’ve ever met”:

So I guess Cox is suggesting that he is the beast who will bring beastly changes to California?

Let’s pause, and meet the beast.  I mean – the bear.

His name is Tag:

Unlike Hearst’s grizzly, Tag is a Kodiak bear, born nine years ago in a private zoo in Ohio.  He stands 7½ feet tall, weighs 1,000 pounds, and lives at Working Wildlife in Frazier Park, CA, a business that rents out wild animals for entertainment purposes.

And Tag has, indeed, been rented out – for TV shows including Yellowstone with Kevin Costner and the Apple TV+ series See, as well as for commercials, Geico and Rocket Mortgage among them. 

And now, Tag has been rented by the Cox campaign.

When asked why, Cox said,

“It was done to get attention, I’m going to be honest about that, but it also was done to show the seriousness of a beast.  We’ve got to tackle these problems.”

Now it appears that Cox is getting a bit more attention than he wants:

According to this May 25 article, the Animal Protection and Rescue League (APRL), a San Diego nonprofit, is claiming that a stop Cox made in San Diego earlier in May “violated a city ordinance, and that ongoing appearances are illegal under federal law.”

APRL has filed a lawsuit asking a judge to order Cox to immediately suspend any further public appearances with the animal through the duration of the campaign to recall Governor Newsom.

APRL claimed the bear was drugged, which the campaign denied.  The lawsuit also said,

“While at one point defendants claimed to use an ‘electrified wire’ to contain the bear, this would not be sufficient to stop a 1,000-pound bear.  Defendants later admitted the wire was not even electrified as claimed.”

That “not even electrified” appears to be true.  According to Tag’s trainer, the cord was unplugged because the bear had “long since learned not to go near it”:

Tag and the not-electrified wire he supposedly doesn’t get near to.

I mention this in case you decide to attend a Cox/Tag campaign appearance – you might want to keep that “not even electrified” part in mind in case Tag figures out a workaround.

I’d certainly want something substantial between me and a 7½ foot, 1,000-pound bear.

Substantial – like an ocean.

The Cox campaign did have plenty to say as they pledged to continue displaying the bear at political events – at least until a judge intercedes.  And…

“The establishment is running scared from the bear because they don’t like that we’re going to make the big beastly changes California needs.  Gavin Newsom and his insider friends want to distract from the important issues like slashing taxes, fixing the homelessness epidemic and reducing the cost of living so families and businesses don’t have to flee the state.”

The Cox campaign has that “beastly” thing nailed, don’t they?

I was unable to find a schedule of upcoming appearances for Cox and Tag on his – that is, Cox’s – website, or elsewhere.

And I was unable to find a date for the Newsom recall election, beyond “sometime in November.”

I was able to find an estimate for what the recall election will cost, and who gets to pay for it:

And since a recent poll indicates that a large majority of California voters oppose the Newsom recall:

This whole farce is my definition of “beastly”:

Life Gave Them Lemons, And They’re…

According to this May 11 Voice of America article:

“…at the end of March there were 8.1 million open jobs in the country, the highest number since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the figure in 2000.”

Then the BLS reported that the number of newly employed Americans had risen by only 266,000 in April rather than the one million that had been forecast.

The article goes on to say,

“Business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce blame the Biden administration’s continuation of expanded unemployment benefits of ‘paying people not to work.’ 

“Republicans in Congress, many using the exact language of the chamber, excoriated the administration…”

Republicans have grown expert at excoriating the administration.

If President Biden said on a Friday morning, “Today is Friday,” it would be followed by a Mitch McConnell/Kevin McCarthy duet of, “I object to that!  That’s political and Biden is politicizing it!  It’s the Big Lie!”

And they’d be backed up by a lockstep chorus line of Republicans shouting, “The Big Lie!  The Big Lie!”

So let’s leave that mess aside and talk about why that April newly employed number was less than expected.

We’ve heard many reasons why people haven’t returned to work, but there’s a reason we haven’t heard much about, and it’s not people getting paid to not work.

And it’s a reason I totally get:

Many people who were laid off have had time to reflect on their employment.

And basically, they decided…

What prompted my thinking along these lines was this very insightful article from the Associated Press:

The article included interviews with a number of people I consider a good representation of the sentiment out there.

One was 57-year-old Ellen Booth:

“After a lifelong career as a bartender, Booth (below, right) was in constant pain from lifting ice buckets and beer kegs.  But without a college degree, she felt she had limited options.

“When the restaurant she worked for closed last year, she said it gave her ‘the kick I needed.’  Booth started a year-long class to learn to be medical coder.  When her unemployment benefits ran out two months ago, she started drawing on her retirement funds.  She’ll take an exam in the coming weeks to get certified, and hit the job market.”

Then there was Nate Mullins, 36, also a former bartender.  Not working prompted him to start thinking long-term – about health care and retirement benefits.  And Mark Smithivas, 52, a former Uber and Lyft driver.  He spent the last year taking technology classes in a federal worker training program.

There were other interviews, but the one that resonated with me the most was 25-year-old Shelly Ortiz.  Ortiz, said the article,

“…used to love her career as a restaurant server.  But things changed last June, when her Phoenix restaurant reopened its dining room.  She wore two masks and glasses to protect herself, but still felt anxiety in a restaurant full of unmasked diners.

“Sexual harassment also got worse.  Patrons would ask her to pull down her mask so they could see how cute she was before tipping her.”

Ortiz quit in July, returned to school full time, and this month she’s graduating from Glendale Community College with a degree in film and a certificate in documentary directing.

No more “pull down your mask” for her.

There are all sorts of bromides out there about loving your work:

Please:  Spare me.

The reality is, most people spend their lives working for a paycheck.  They’re not doing what they love – like something in the arts, or in sports, or in the nonprofit sector, or studying whales, or whatever.  And that’s because they have rent to pay, and groceries to buy, and doctors and dentists, and gasoline to put in the car, if they can afford to own one.

Being a starving artist may sound enticing, but most people don’t go that route.

You can’t feed your unsold paintings to your kids.

So, to the people who haven’t rushed back to their old jobs as the pandemic restrictions ease…  To those who have utilized this time to reflect on their priorities, and change direction…  To those to whom life gave lemons and are turning them into lemonade…

I say…

More Bad News About The California DMV

When this story about bribery at the California DMV appeared on May 18:

It didn’t surprise me.

What surprised me was how little interest it merited.

I understand why more bad news about the California DMV wouldn’t be of interest to people outside our state.

But I thought the California media outlets would be on this story like flies on…you know.

But no.

National and local, all I saw online was reprints of the same Associated Press story from above, that starts with:

“California Department of Motor Vehicle employees at two Los Angeles-area offices took thousands of dollars in bribes to approve driver licenses, federal prosecutors said.”

And ends with:

“The scheme involved sending the drivers to the window of a participating DMV employee who had an identifier, such as a red hat.”

We’ve gotten so used to bad news about our DMV, and bad service from our DMV, that back on April 19 I did a post in which I referred to it as the “asshole of California.”

“A bit harsh,” someone commented.

“Harsh”?

I think not.

I based my assessment on the encounters I’ve had with the DMV over the years, and recounted the most recent.  I’d mailed paperwork to them six weeks earlier, and wanted to know the status of my request.  After many fruitless and frustrating attempts to learn something on the DMV website, in desperation I called them.

Eventually I connected with a person and explained why I was calling.

And without bothering to ask me anything – not even my name – his excuse was well-rehearsed, immediate, and creative:

“Due to the pandemic and the Post Office, everything at DMV is delayed.”

The conversation went downhill from there.  He was less than useless, and if you think that isn’t possible, you haven’t dealt with our DMV.

A bad experience at our DMV is never a surprise, so neither are bad headlines, like these:

In case you don’t know what the Golden Fleece Award is for…

“The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) – a cartoonish poster child for bureaucratic incompetence – has won the Independent Institute’s seventh California Golden Fleece® Award, a distinction given quarterly to California state or local agencies or government projects that swindle taxpayers or break the public trust.”

And note, those headlines were all pre-pandemic.

Since the pandemic started in March 2020…

One thing you can count on the DMV to be is…

OK, back to the most recent – the May 2021 bribery story.

This involves two Los Angeles-area offices and at least five employees, one of whom “admitted to accepting weekly bribes exceeding $50,000.”

A different bribery accepter said a “network of ‘brokers’ would contact him on behalf of drivers who could not pass the exam and then forward the drivers’ bribes to the DMV employees.”

You’ll be relieved to know that in a statement responding to this latest, the DMV said:

“Fraud prevention is one key component of customer service.  The DMV takes very seriously its responsibility to uphold the law as we serve our customers and we applaud our thousands of employees who work with integrity and pride.”

Which I suspect is similar to what the DMV said back in 2012 after this story broke:

And after this 2015 story:

And this 2018 story:

And this 2019 story:

And…enough.

Back in January 2019, our governor, Gavin Newsom, committed to fixing the DMV by appointing a “strike team”:

As time passed and nothing changed, we were all wondering…

That question was answered in July 2019:

But let’s don’t get discouraged! 

An April 2021 report from AutoInsurance.org assures us that the California DMV made a Top 10 list.

A Top Ten list!  That’s a good thing, right?

We Have Books With A Happy Ending – How About Bookstores With A…

Independently owned bookstores have been around since before the U.S. was the U.S. – like Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem, PA, the oldest bookstore in the U.S., founded in 1745:

These stores – often referred to as “indies” – have been beloved by their customers and neighbors alike, and thrived for a long time.  As a place to buy books, of course, but also as a place to learn about books, talk about books, and be around other people who shared a love of reading.

But, according to an article on newrepublic.com,

“The rise of superstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders in the 1980s and ’90s was a disaster for smaller shops, which lacked the chains’ inventory and ability to offer steep discounts.  Customers were also moving away from downtown locally owned businesses and doing their shopping at malls.  In the seven years before the Great Recession began, more than 1,000 independent bookstores closed.”

The advent of Amazon in 1995 – as a website that started out selling only books – also contributed to the indies’ demise.  Why go to a bookstore, even a big bookstore like Barnes & Noble, when you could sit in front of your computer at home and find just about any book you want from Amazon?

Sure, buying on Amazon didn’t give you the same tactile experience of pulling a book off a shelf and hefting it in your hand, paging through it, and walking out of a store, delighted with your purchase.  But many were willing to make that trade.

Then came another blow to Indies:  e-books.  No need to lug around the physical book, just download it to your device.  Download lots of books to your device!  No more bookstores for you.

Yet another blow:  The afore-mentioned Great Recession wasn’t kind to independently owned bookstores.

And neither was the pandemic.  Stores were forced to close, in-store events were cancelled, and indie owners who had little or no internet presence suddenly had to become mini-Amazons or risk permanently closing their doors.

Which brings us to two San Diego indies who managed to survive it all, then almost didn’t – Mysterious Galaxy, founded in 1993, and Warwick’s, founded in 1896.

Since its founding, Mysterious Galaxy’s focus has been science fiction, fantasy, mystery, young adult, romance, and horror books, making it – according to its website,

Mysterious Galaxy, 2019 location.

“San Diego’s premier destination for genre-fiction…a home for those who love the magical, the odd, the chilling, and everything in between…”

But, in late 2019, came this announcement:

“The staff of Mysterious Galaxy just received notice that they are losing their lease for their Balboa Avenue storefront, and will need to move in 60 days.  It is with heavy hearts that we share that unless a new buyer and new location are found immediately, Mysterious Galaxy will be forced to close its doors.”

The Mysterious Galaxy staff had seen it coming.  According to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune,

“…in September 2018, the owners decided it was time to ‘pass the torch’ and pursue other interests, and they put the store up for sale.  Although several candidates came forward, no deal was struck, and the store’s lease on Balboa Avenue expired.  It continued operating month-to-month while the search for a buyer continued.”

Then the landlord found a new long-term tenant and gave Mysterious Galaxy that 60-day eviction notice. 

After surviving so much, Mysterious Galaxy was done in by their lease. 

Or, lack of.

Then, just before Christmas 2019, came this:

A married couple who were regular customers purchased the business and moved it to a new location:

One of the store’s founders said she’d met with “a number of qualified prospective buyers and corresponded with dozens of others” before striking a deal with the couple.  She described them as “passionate readers who understand our mission and want to take the business to the next level and ensure its future.”

That was Christmas 2019.

Then came March 2020 and the pandemic, but a visit to the Mysterious Galaxy website indicates that the store, though “closed for browsing” (and that should change soon) is still very much in business:

About 15 minutes north of Mysterious Galaxy in the La Jolla area we encounter Warwick’s, “the oldest continuously family-owned and operated bookstore in the United States,” according to their website:

Warwick’s is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, so it was a truly lousy time for the fourth-generation owners, Nancy and Cathy, to learn that the building’s owner had received an unsolicited $8.3 million dollar cash offer, which the owner intended to accept.

The store had been in this location since 1952, and it was a great location – a storefront with foot traffic and street parking in La Jolla, which one website lists as San Diego’s “most expensive neighborhood” in 2021:

The average household income in La Jolla is around $200,000, and it’s also a popular tourist destination – the description on the area’s website could leave you positively drooling:

Incredible beaches, fine dining, posh boutiques, and sweeping panoramic ocean views combine to make a dynamic community and one of the most popular places to go in San Diego.

Downtown La Jolla, or as the locals call it, “The Village,” is a walkable urban area packed with shops, museums, and art galleries – making it one of the best places to visit in San Diego.

As you can imagine, retail rents in La Jolla are commensurate with the surroundings.

After surviving for more than a century, and through all the more-recent challenges…

And how would the Warwick sisters ever find a location they could afford that could match their current digs?

Especially with time running out – the owner had given the Nancy and Cathy 15 days to match that $8.3 million cash offer.

Instead of hanging out a Going Out of Business sign, Nancy called a longtime customer and commercial real estate broker.  He arranged a meeting with a friend and local investor who’s also a store patron.

“Within about 45 minutes we had struck a lease deal and decided how to structure a counteroffer so that we could buy the building,” the friend/investor said.

The trio lined up a bank and nearly three dozen Warwick’s supporters, including Nancy and Cathy and their husbands.  They formed an LLC and offered $8.35 million dollars.  That offer was accepted and escrow closed April 28:

The deal includes a 10-year lease, with two five-year renewal options – up to 20 more years to continue the family business.

Warwick’s investors celebrating, May 1.

Mysterious Galaxy and Warwick’s found guardian angels, but many indies have not.  According to an article on vox.com, since the pandemic started, indies have been closing at the rate of about one a week, and 20 percent of stores in the U.S. are in danger of same. 

Those that are surviving are doing so because the owners and staff pivoted – from face-to-face service to online orders, curbside pickup and in some cases, home deliveries.  Book clubs and other in-store events moved to online platforms like Zoom.  Some owners applied for, and received, loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and some created GoFundMe pages, with some success.

As the pandemic appears to be diminishing and with it the lockdowns and stay-at-homes and dangers of infection, here’s hoping that the independent bookstore owners can continue to hang on, and their stores can continue to be, as one owner put it…

“…places where folks can come together to discuss what’s going on in the world, to also have a safe haven and a safe place for exploring new ideas.  Bookstores provide everything from sanctuary to meditative spaces.”

Book Review: She Deserves To Be Remembered – But Not Like This

Publication date:  March 2021

Review, short version:  One rose.

Review, long version:

There are three lead characters in Mitchell James Kaplan’s Rhapsody:  a wife, her husband, and her lover.

I’d never heard of the wife, by either of her names:  her personal name, Mrs. James (Katharine) Warburg, or her professional name, Kay Swift (composer).

I’d never heard of the husband, by either of his names:  his personal name, James Warburg, or his professional name, Paul James (Swift’s sometime lyricist).

I’d certainly heard of, and was a great admirer of, her lover:

George Gershwin.

Swift and her lover, Gershwin.

Gershwin (1898-1937) was a pianist and composer, best remembered for his Rhapsody in Blue, the musical An American in Paris, the opera Porgy and Bess, and songs including Swanee, I Got Rhythm and many others for Broadway musicals and movies.

When I read a review of Rhapsody, I was intrigued because it was a fictionalized account of the 10-year love affair between Gershwin and Swift.

I was unaware of any serious love interest in Gershwin’s life – when he died at age 38, he’d never married – and Rhapsody seemed like a good place to start.

And it was a good place to start, for Gershwin.

For Swift, not so much.

When we meet Swift (1897-1993) she’s the socialite wife of super-wealthy James Warburg (1896-1969), whom she married when she was 20, and they have three daughters.  Katharine is an accomplished pianist and wannabe composer who longs for recognition – lots of recognition.  “What was the point,” she muses, “of artistic expression in music, or any other medium, if it affected only the artist herself?”

I said “muses,” but it was really more of a whine.  And not her last, as Kaplan portrays her.

Swift and her husband, Jimmy.

Swift and Warburg – “Jimmy” – are very social, and in 1925 a guest at one of their parties brings along Gershwin.  Swift knew of him and had seen him, but not up this close.  Zing! went the strings of her heart.

Gershwin’s heart?  Not so much.

Swift – soon to be christened “Kay” by Gershwin – become friends, drawn together by their mutual interest in music.  She longs for recognition of her work, and for more of Gershwin’s attention.  Gershwin craves recognition, and his attention is on his music. 

During one exchange at her family’s apartment, George says he has to leave and get back to work.  In an effort to make him stay, she – rather pathetically, I thought – offers herself to him as his assistant.  His response:  “I’ll keep that in mind.  Meanwhile, I’ll be touring the New York Concerto.  You won’t see me for a while.”

I could accompany you.  She said it with her eyes.

Really pathetic.  Especially since Gershwin doesn’t invite her to accompany him.

This – as written by Kaplan – pretty much sums up the relationship:  Kay always yearning for Gershwin, and Gershwin always on his way out the door.  They become lovers in 1926, but when she tells Gershwin she’s in love with him, he doesn’t respond likewise.  Gershwin is unfaithful, and doesn’t try to hide it.  And when she tells Gershwin she’s going to get a divorce and marry him, his response is…lukewarm at best.

Here’s another of Swift’s responses to Gershwin:

If that’s the best you can do, George, thought Kay, I’ll take it.

And another, after someone asks Swift if Gershwin is her beau:

“I think so,” said Kay.  “I hope so.”

This last was nine years into the Swift/Gershwin relationship.

Swift comes across as weak, clingy, and powerless in the relationship, and I didn’t think that was an accurate representation.  Rather, I hoped it wasn’t, and that led me to my own online research.  Under her professional name, Kay Swift (Swift was her maiden name) evolved into an accomplished composer, including becoming the first woman to score a hit musical completely – Fine and Dandy in 1930.

To be fair, Kaplan does talk about some of Swift’s musical accomplishments, but whatever she did after Gershwin’s death in 1937 is left untold – Rhapsody ends with Gershwin’s funeral.

So I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in Swift and Gershwin and that whole era –New York in the Roaring 20s and Prohibition into the Great Depression – to do their own research and form their own opinion of Swift.

She deserves to be remembered, but…

Addendum:

Among the Rhapsody reviews on Amazon is this April 5, 2021 statement, identified as being from the Kay Swift Trust, “established by the Estate of Kay Swift to provide stewardship of the body of music, to enable scholarship about the life and work of Kay Swift, and to perpetuate performance, recording and publication of her music”:

We are disappointed by this novel “about” Kay Swift and her romance with George Gershwin.  There is almost no page in the book without absurd errors, inauthentic representations, ignorant cultural, political, and musical references, or offensive characterizations.  There are numerous representations that we consider to be anti-Semitic, whether knowingly or ignorantly.  For a book attempting to portray the romance between two celebrated musicians, the writing is both inept and tone-deaf…

Have You Met Your New Neighbor?

Let’s say it’s a Sunday evening Houston, TX in early May, around 8pm.  The family’s had dinner, kids are in their rooms playing video games, and your husband has turned on the TV to stream…whatever.

Just another Sunday evening in Houston.

Until you glance out your front window, and see this:

Yes, that’s a tiger.

There’s a tiger in your front yard.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’d have two reactions:

As a resident of Houston, you may be aware that it’s legal to own tigers in your state.  However, individual jurisdictions can set their own guidelines, and being in possession of a tiger in Houston is against city code.

I’m betting that the guy pictured below (right) was aware of Houston’s city code.  This is Victor Hugo Cuevas, whom police allege is the tiger s owner, and who whisked away the big cat in a car that May evening:

Cuevas (right) and his attorney Michael Elliott in court on May 14, 2021.

At a news conference, Houston Police Commander Ron Borza said that Cuevas’ wife, Giorgiana, turned over the tiger to police after a friend of hers reached out to officials at BARC Animal Shelter.

“It is Victor’s tiger,” said Borza.  “That’s what I was told by (Giorgiana Cuevas) …She says they’ve had that animal for nine months.”  He alleged that the tiger was passed around to different people, but that Cuevas’ wife knew where the tiger was at all times as authorities searched for it.

We also learned that the tiger’s name is India, he’s nine months old, and weighs 175 pounds.

We know that – but India doesn’t know he’s just a baby.

India does know that tigers raw meat, and lots of it.

Prey on two legs, four legs – tigers are flexible.

And there India was, strolling around a neighborhood where, as one resident put it,

“It was very scary, because this a very family-oriented community and you see lots of kids and baby-strolling, and people taking their pets and walking them, so the first thing I thought was to alert the community so everybody would stay home.”

Cuevas was arrested by Houston police and charged with evading arrest for allegedly fleeing his home with the tiger. 

It turns out this isn’t his first run-in with the law.  At the time of his arrest by Houston police, Cuevas was out on bond for a murder charge in a 2017 fatal shooting in neighboring Fort Bend County.  Cuevas has maintained the shooting was self-defense.

So Cuevas was already lawyered-up, in this case attorney Michael W. Elliott:

With regards to the tiger, Elliott insists that Cuevas doesn’t own India:

“Victor was not the primary owner of India nor did India stay with him the majority of the time.  Victor was, however, involved in the caretaking of India often.  Victor loves India as anyone else would love a favorite pet…He treated India with love and fantastic treatment in all respects.”

It appears that Elliott is overlooking (or ignoring) the language in Houston’s Code of Ordinances, Article III, Sec. 6-52 which doesn’t talk about ownership, but rather possession of:

“It is unlawful for any person to be in possession of a wild animal.”

The Code’s definition of “wild animal” includes tigers.

Elliott also said Cuevas did nothing illegal because Texas has no statewide law forbidding private ownership of tigers and other exotic animals – again overlooking (or ignoring) Houston’s Code of Ordinances.

Apparently Attorney Elliott’s overlooking/ignoring worked – Cuevas was released on a separate bond for the evading arrest charge.

But prosecutors in Fort Bend County then sought to have him held with no bond on the 2017 murder charge. 

After an all-day hearing, a judge revoked Cuevas’ current $125,000 bond on the murder charge and issued a new bond for $300,000.  As of this writing, Cuevas remains jailed.

And India?

India is now being cared for at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, an animal sanctuary in Murchison, TX. According to Noelle Almrud, the sanctuary’s senior director:

“Black Beauty Ranch will provide safe sanctuary for India and give him a proper diet, enrichment, an expansive naturally wooded habitat where he can safely roam and will provide everything else he needs to be the healthy wild tiger he deserves to be.”

Hopefully, a happy ending for India.

This story brings to mind an old ad for gasoline company that urged consumers to “Put A Tiger In Your Tank”:

I’d say this time around, the tiger put Cuevas in the tank:

Rant:  You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

When I’m driving, I occasionally listen to “Oldies” radio, “oldies” defined as a “radio format  that concentrates on rock and roll and pop music from around the mid-1950s to the 1970s or 1980s.”

Unless you’re Generation Z, in which case “oldies” is defined as “so 20 minutes ago.”

Some oldies songs are good to hear, some not so good.

But when a song came on…

That was so egregiously bad, I almost had to pull into a rest stop and…

woman larger

While I wondered who wrote this and…

what_02 cropped larger

They were thinking it was 1963.  A time when…

Women were supposed to want this:

housewife_01 smaller

Read this:

cookbook

And ignore this:

office_02 cropped

So it’s no wonder that the song’s lyrics start like this:

Hey! Little Girlwoman_01 reversed
Comb your hair, fix your makeup
Soon he will open the door.
Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger
You needn’t try anymore.

The lyrics start there, and then get worse:

For wives should always be lovers, too
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you
I’m warning you.

The song was “Wives and Lovers,” and it was all downhill from there:

Day after daywoman_01 reversed
There are girls at the office
And men will always be men.
Don’t send him off with your hair still in curlers
You may not see him again.

For wives should always be lovers, too
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you
He’s almost here.

Hey! Little girl
Better wear something prettywoman_01 reversed
Something you’d wear to go to the city and
Dim all the lights, pour the wine, start the music
Time to get ready for love
Time to get ready
Time to get ready for love.

It won’t come as a surprise that these dreadful lyrics were written by a guy.

It may come as a surprise that one of the people who recorded the song won a Grammy in 1964.

But what’s really surprising is how many people recorded it:

More than 30.

And some of those were women.

But wait – it gets worse:

Cécile McLorin Salvant deliberately learned these lyrics, went to a recording studio, and included “Wives and Lovers” on her album For One to Love.

 Not in 1965, or 1985, or 2005 but in…

2015

Yes, in 2015.

I’m going to rank Salvant’s giant leap for womankind right up there with these catchy lyrics I discovered, also from the 1960s:

You’ve come a long way, baby,
To get where you got to, today.
You’ve got your own cigarette now baby,
You’ve come a long, long way.

Picture4

Book Review:  I Expected Better From Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Publication Date:  June 2020

Review, short version:  Three roses for him, many skunks for her.

Review, long version:

According to her website, author Susan Elizabeth Phillips has published 24 books, and I’ve read most of them.

And I’ve enjoyed all I’ve read, a couple enough to read twice, and one – three times.

It had been awhile, so when I went looking for her latest and found Dance Away with Me, I was elated.  Somehow I’d missed it’s publication 2020, and I was SO ready for some more Susan now.

Phillips’ website unabashadly states that “Life is better with happily ever afters,” and her love stores have them.  They also have strong, smart lead female characters, and strong, smart male lead characters, and when the females and males meet, there’s often a lot of conflict and a lot of great, snarky dialogue before they figure out their happy ending.

Let’s start with the lead male in Dance Away with Me:  Ian North, age 36.  He’s everything you want in a hunky romance hero:  tall, dark, handsome and built.  Very alpha, but sensitive.  He’s super-rich due to his being a highly successful, hughely talented artist.  He’s also a tortued soul, because he can’t create art anymore.  Plus, he had terrible parents, and a very messed-up childhood.

The lead female is Tess Hartsong, age 35, and she is Phillips’ first lead female character who totally disappointed me. 

When we meet Tess, her husband of 11 years had died two years ago, and she’s dealing with grief “that would never, ever go away.” 

Tess apparently had a career as a certified nurse midwife, but she jettisoned that.  She sold her home in Milwaukee and bought a dilapidated cabin in the Tennessee mountains, because her late husband had talked about moving to Tennessee someday.  Tess is a mess, and there’s no indication that she’s pursued any kind of professional help to deal with her grief and anger.

I’m not suggesting that Tess should just “get over it.”  I know, firsthand, that grief knows no timeline.  I also know that the right therapist can help us learn to live with the grief, and learn to live again. 

But not Tess.

Through a series of events, Tess is suddenly delivering a premature baby, and the baby’s mother, Bianca, dies.  In Tess’ muddled mind, her anger “had made this happen.  It had seared the placental membrane, boiled Bianca’s blood until it wouldn’t coagulate…Her own anger had done this.”

See what I mean about Tess’ mental state?

The man Tess believes is the baby’s father – Ian – turns out not to be; the baby was fathered by a sperm donor.  The baby is, in reality, an orphan, and should have immediately been turned over to child protection services.

Instead, Tess names the infant girl “Wren” and latches onto her like a drowning person latches onto a life preserver.  Somehow, this baby, to whom she has no legal right, is going to fix everything.

As Tess’ obsession with the infant gets worse, we meet another facet of Tess:  Tess is a bitch. A self-righteous know-it-all who says whatever she likes to whomever.  She’s arrogant and obnoxious.  She assigns degrading labels to people and she’s scornfully judgmental.  She gives sex advice to the local teenagers without their parents’ permission because “I’m right.”

Not my idea of a book character I want to spend time with.

Back to the baby.  Tess:  “I’m her family.  I was the first person to touch her.  The one who’s fed her, changed her, held her against my body…”  “She only wanted to be with Wren…Taking in the little sounds she made – the squeaks and yawns, her baby snores.  Her perfect deliciousness…”  “This baby was hers.  She would give up her life for this child.  She could not let her go…”  “Wren is mine.  She belongs with me.”

A fine way for a mother to feel.

But Tess is not the baby’s mother.

Then there’s the matter of Tess’ mess of a life:  no job, no money, no health insurance, a crappy, unsafe house – and she thinks she’s prepared to care for a child (to whom she has no legal claim)?

Then there’s the matter of Tess practicing medicine in Tennessee without a license.

And the irony, toward the end of the book, of Tess suggesting that Ian is emotionally crippled.

Uh-huh.  That’s right, Tess.  You’re the perfect person to psychoanalyze someone.

And this brings me to my comfort zone – once again totally out of step with the almost 1,900 Amazon reviewers, 96% of whom gave Dance Away with Me three stars or above (73% gave it five stars).

It also raises the question, when Phillips’ next book, When Stars Collide, comes out this June…

Will I read it?

Caught And Charged; Caught And Killed; And The One That Got Away

Every Sunday my newspaper runs a full page titled The (almost) Back Page.

It’s a collection of short articles that aren’t worthy of big headlines or the front page, but still articles worth reading.

Here are three recent stories that prompted research on my part, and of course, my own spin:

Caught and Charged

The Charles Schwab Corporation is an American multinational financial services company whose motto is “Own Your Tomorrow”:

Kelyn Spadoni (pictured below, right), a Schwab client, appears to have done just that – owning her tomorrow by buying a new car and a house.

It seems that Spadoni, 33, of Harvey, LA had requested a transfer of $82.56 into her account.

Instead, Schwab transferred $1,205,619 into Spadoni’s account.

Spadoni, obviously a fiscally responsible person, noticed the$1,205,536.44 in additional funds, exactly as she should have.  Aren’t money experts always telling us to “monitor your money”?

She then transferred the money into a different account and bought the house and car the next day.

Who wouldn’t be tempted to do the same?

Especially after the crap year so many have had? 

Imagine the pleasure Spadoni felt, walking into that Hyundai dealership and writing a big, fat check for the Genesis SUV she chose.  Imagine the thrill Spadoni felt, pointing to a house and saying, perhaps, “I’ll take that one,” a house she likely couldn’t have afforded on her salary as a 911 dispatcher for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.

The Schwab transaction, variously called a “software glitch,” “clerical error” and a “mistake,” came to Schwab’s attention and they, of course, contacted Spadoni.

Or tried to – she didn’t respond to their texts, emails or calls.

Now it appears someone besides Spadoni may be “owning her tomorrow”:

Schwab contacted the authorities and Spadoni was arrested on April 7.  She was charged with fraud and theft – and also fired, the Sheriff’s Office said – and has since been released on a $150,000 bond.

Now, of course Spadoni knew what she was doing was wrong. 

And we know it was wrong.

But truly…

Wouldn’t you have been…

Up Next:

Caught and Killed

A violent death is never something to celebrate, and this was a violent death. 

Still, I couldn’t help but give a small, inward nod when I read this:

Elephants:  1.  Poachers:  0.

The location was Kruger National Park, in northeastern South Africa, one of Africa’s largest game reserves at 7,523 square miles.

Its high density of wild animals includes the Big Five:  lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos:

Its high density is a big draw for poachers, and a big menace for the Big Five.

Especially for rhinos, which, according to an April 20 Washington Post article,

“…are frequently targeted by poachers for their horns, which have been used as an ingredient in traditional medicines in Asian countries such as China and Vietnam for thousands of years.  Aside from medicine, the horns are often seen as a symbol of high social status and purchased as gifts.”

Apparently the deceased alleged poacher and his two partners had entered the park, armed with axes and a rifle.  They were spotted by rangers who gave chase.  The men fled, dropping their weapons.

I think it’s reasonable to infer that the men were in the park for nefarious reasons.

I think it’s also reasonable to assume that they weren’t the brightest bulbs in the chandelier.

Because their escape route took them straight into a herd of elephants.

Breeding elephants.

Now, I’m no expert, but I know that African bull elephants are big:  up to 13 feet tall, and up to six+ tons.

And I know that breeding bull elephants have one focus, and they do not like to be disturbed.

And when some puny humans run into the herd and interrupt the…shall we say courtship, the bulls are likely to get annoyed.

And they did:  The bulls and the rest of the elephant herd stampeded, and one of the men was killed.

Park rangers arrested another of the men, and apparently the third escaped.

The elephants resumed their breeding activities, unbothered.

It’s likely the dead poacher had family and if so, I’m sorry for their loss.

But I’m not sorry that in this one park, on this one day, we didn’t have one more of these:

And finally,

The One That Got Away

The setting for this story is the Detroit River, which flows west and south between Detroit and Windsor, Canada, from Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie:

In April, three biologists from the Michigan-based Fish and Wildlife Service office were in a boat on the river, putting out setlines with hooks to catch and survey the lake sturgeon population.

It was their version of just another day at the office, when one of them felt a tug on the line.

What they pulled in – and it took all three of them – was a lake sturgeon:

But not your typical lake sturgeon; this female measured 6-feet, 10-inches, had a girth of nearly four feet, and weighed in at 240 pounds, one of the largest ever caught in the country. 

One of the biologists, who is 5’ 6”, obligingly laid down next to the fish to give us some perspective:

The group estimated the sturgeon’s age at about 100 years, and that in itself is amazing for a number of reasons:

People do fish for lake sturgeon, though the flesh is described at “edible but not prized.”  It’s the sturgeon’s eggs that are in demand – caviar produced from sturgeon eggs can sell for more than $100 an ounce:

So for around 100 years – since 1920 – our wily female has evaded those who have wanted to eat her, or harvest her eggs.

In addition, according to a May 5 article in the Washington Post, there was…

“…a boom in commercial fishing that continued into the early 1900s, periods of over-harvesting, and habitat loss driven by shipping channel construction and the damming of tributaries.”

And, during World War II, Detroit was considered the “Arsenal of Democracy,” producing jeeps, tanks, bombers and airplane assemblies, artillery guns, ammunition, helmets, drugs, electronics, and other military items.  Oil pollution was rampant, and they discharged not only oil but other toxic substances into the Detroit River.

Our wily female survived all that, as well.

And other hazards, like collisions with boats.  Lake sturgeons are slow swimmers, and when it’s fish vs. boat…

It’s no wonder the fish are considered a threatened species in Michigan – in fact, in 19 of the 20 states where they’re found.

The three biologists from the Michigan-based Fish and Wildlife Service office tagged the female and released her. 

Let’s hope our female continues to be…

What Isn’t Right With This Writing?

I love to write – and have for a long time – but that doesn’t mean I’m a great writer.

Or even a good writer.

Which is why I know that as a writer, I can always improve.

Which is why I enjoy taking creative writing classes.

Our writing instructor gave us a tricky assignment.  She wanted us to take several writing rules and break them, repeatedly but not blatantly, in a piece.

But – she wanted the piece to be written so that at first read, you might not notice the errors.

I chose three writing rules to break, and had some fun with it.  The piece is below, followed by a list of the rules I broke.

*****

As I slowly awoke at the crack of noon, I immediately realized my blood alcohol level was getting dangerously low.

So I repaired to my neighborhood watering hole, Peely’s Pub, where – that’s right – everybody knows my name.  But you don’t, and you won’t – just call me Nameless Narrator.  Ms. Nameless Narrator if you prefer to go formal.

Peely’s was everything you wanted in your neighborhood dive:  a couple of neon beer signs flashing in dirty windows, inviting you into the dim, narrow, smoky room.  Funny how these places are still smoky, even after those health folks decided smoking was bad for us.  The bar was on one side, booths on the other, a few tables in between, a dusty Foosball game in the back.  Remember Foosball?  Me neither.  The jukebox was playing the last 26 seconds of that Garth Brooks’ favorite, I’ve Got Friends in Low Places, a tune that suited my mood perfectly.

Buddy, the bartender – that wasn’t his name, either – reached for the gin as I settled on the cracked leather bar stool.  The leather wasn’t real, but it didn’t matter because the gin was.  Watching Buddy make my drink of choice – a parsley gin julep (that’s right, I said “julep”) was to see a maestro in action.  He carefully counted out eight parsley leaves, then muddled them in a cocktail shaker with fresh lime juice – none of that bottled stuff for Buddy – and simple syrup.  I don’t know why they call it “simple,” and I don’t care.  Then Buddy added ice cubes and crushed ice, and masterfully measured out one-and-a-half ounces of gin, not a drop more, not a drop less.

After several well-choreographed shakes to the shaker, Buddy applied a strainer and poured the liquid nirvana into a tall glass of ice.  But he wasn’t finished yet.  His masterpiece still required a splash of club soda and a wheel of lime, skin on, sliced to a thickness of precisely 7/16 of an inch.

As Buddy reverently placed the glass on the cocktail napkin in front of me, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye.  Why people use that cliché is beyond me, since eyes don’t have corners.  I turned my head about 40 degrees and that’s when I saw him.  Seated at the end of the bar, eight stools away, looking right at me as if he were Columbus and he’d just discovered America.  He was tall, dark and – well, you know the rest.  How did I know he was tall?  Because I’m also the Omniscient Narrator.

The scruffy two-day growth of beard couldn’t disguise his sculpted cheekbones and squared-off chin.  Dark eyebrows arched over dark eyes, and went well with his headful of thick, dark hair.  Did I mention he was tall, dark and – I believe I did.  His broad shoulders filled out his suit jacket to perfection, and his loosened tie revealed the long, strong column of his throat.  I’ve always wanted to say “long, strong column” in reference to a guy, and not a Greek building.

He was drinking beer straight from the bottle, American, not that imported stuff.  I like that in a guy.  In fact, I liked everything about this guy, and I sensed that the feeling was – well, you know the rest.  He lifted his beer, drained the last few drops, set the bottle on the bar, stood, and began walking toward me.

And yes, I admit it.  I thought, “Of all the gin joints, in all the…” – well, you know the rest.

I raised my glass, caressed it with my lips, then took a long, healthy swallow. That dangerously low level of alcohol in my blood was about to get taken care of.

And so, my friends, was I.

*****

What’s wrong with this writing?

I used nine adverbs ending in -ly.  Why is this bad?

Some experts say:

Overuse of adverbs is the hallmark of lazy, cluttered writing.  Good writing should use strong verbs rather than -ly adverbs.  Often the adverbs mean the same as the verb and become redundant, leading to messy prose.  The most common (over)use of adverbs is to modify the verb said, e.g., “I’m leaving,” he said angrily. 

By reducing these adverbs, the author allows the characters to convey the emotions of the dialogue themselves.  Instead of telling the reader, they show them:

He slammed his fist on the desk.  “I’m leaving.”

I also used nine verbs ending in -ing.

Some experts say,

Choose -ing words more carefully and replace with more powerful or descriptive verbs.  Replace weak or common -ing words with specific, stronger word choices.  Your writing will become more concise, clear, and engaging.

Instead of writing this:

She was running down the street like a maniac!

Write this:

She charged down the street like a maniac!

I also used at least a dozen clichés, and all experts agree, clichés are to be avoided at all costs (and yes, “at all costs” is a cliché):

Cliché:  a phrase or opinion that is overused and shows a lack of original thought. 

Here’s an old cliché:

Dead as a doornail.

Here’s a more recent cliché:

Low-hanging fruit.

In summary?

That’s around 30 rule-breakers in one piece of writing done deliberately.

I did a great job of writing badly!

But, please…

Don’t get out your red pen if there are other rules I broke indeliberately

Someday, When…

(This post is yet another from my endless list of Topics About Which I Knew Nothing.  And I grew up in Detroit – but didn’t know about this.)

Let’s say it’s America 100 years ago – 1921.

The Great War ended three years ago, and the U.S. is prosperous.

Warren Harding is president, the New York Yankees are going to their first world series, and people are dancing to the popular tune, Ain’t We Got Fun?

Women had achieved the right to vote a year earlier, corsets were out, and stylish, well-to-do ladies were wearing ensembles like these:

And these:

And if a woman was quite well-to-do, she may have buzzed around town in this quite stylish vehicle:

Talk about stylish!

Check out those side windows – that’s curved glass, the first curved glass in a production automobile. 

And the interior was outfitted like an Edwardian sitting room, complete with plush carpet, drapes, flower vases, and a comfortably padded bench seat along the back wall:

That’s seating for the driver and one companion, while a second companion could relax in a cushy bucket seat up front that swiveled toward the back seat for socializing:

And best of all, there was none of that dreadful hand-cranking to start the engine, like those old Ford cars:

You could break an arm doing that!

In your sweet, stylish automobile you just turned the key, and you and your friends were on your way to a soirée or afternoon cocktails (never mind Prohibition), surrounded by elegant comfort and privacy.

In this:

Your Detroit Electric car.

That’s right:

Electric.

The Detroit Electric was produced by the Anderson Electric Car Company, which built 13,000 electric cars from 1907 to 1939.  In addition to being easy to start, the cars were advertised as reliably getting 80 miles between battery recharging, and their top speed was 20-25mph – fine for buzzing around town.  

They were quieter, smoother, and easier to drive, with tiller steering, a pair of pedals (brake and release) and a simple lever to increase the speed or slow the car.  And they required less maintenance than gasoline-powered cars, plus no stopping at gasoline stations for our 1921 ladies:

Yes, there was a downside – electric cars then, like now, were more expensive.

By 1921, Henry Ford had whittled the base price of his car down to $415 ($5,714 adjusted for inflation), but the Detroit Electric’s base price was $2,985 ($46,203).  And when Charles Kettering introduced the electric starter, it eliminated the need for the hand crank and broadened the appeal of gasoline-powered vehicles.

In the 1910s, the Detroit Electric Car Company was producing 1,000-2,000 cars a year.  Production slowed in the 1920s, and after the stock market crash in 1929 the company filed for bankruptcy.  They continued to build special-order cars, until the last Detroit Electric was shipped in 1939.

There are still a few Detroit Electric cars around today, mostly in museums, including these:

1911 Detroit Electric
1917 Detroit Electric Brogham

And this one, a 1914 Detroit Electric driven by Clara Ford, who apparently didn’t care to drive the Model T made by her husband Henry!

My research also led me to the website of the Historic Electric Vehicle Foundation in Kingman, AZ where I read this:

At the beginning of the 20th century the U.S. had almost twice as many electric cars registered as gasoline ones.  There were around 300 manufacturers of electrics.  By the beginning of World War II, they were almost all gone. 

And I saw pictures of the restoration of a 1930 Detroit Electric, including red drapes in the windows to match its luxurious interior:

Even as Detroit Electric cars are museum pieces now, perhaps someday we – or our descendants – will visit museums to see other old, no-longer-produced cars.

Someday – when those old gasoline-powered cars have been completely replaced by clean, quiet, lower-maintenance, environment-friendly, affordable electrics:

Movie Review:  This Was An Eye-Opener

Release date:  December 2020

Review, short version:  All thumbs up.

Review, long version:

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on American Masters’ Laura Ingalls Wilder:  Prairie to Page.

Laura Ingalls Wilder!  Author of the Little House books!  Hero of my childhood reading!

I devoured those books, all of them. 

Or at least, I thought I did.

Then I watched Prairie to Page, and realized my belief that I’d read all the Little House books was a myth.

Just like, as the film reveals, much of what Wilder wrote in her books.

There are nine Little House books:

Little House in the Big Woods
Farmer Boy
Little House of the Prairie
On the Banks of Plum Creek
By the Shores of Silver Lake
The Long Winter
Little Town on the Prairie
These Happy Golden Years
The First Four Years

Not only had I not read them all, I hadn’t even heard of a couple of them.

So that’s my myth.  What was Wilder’s?

Wilder (1867-1957) wrote about her family living the pioneer life in the vast, open spaces of the Midwest in the mid-to-late 19th century.  Yes, there were many challenges, wrote Wilder, but the family survived.

The family was Ma, Laura and her sisters, and Pa, whom Laura clearly idolized.  Or perhaps a better word is idealized, as the ultimate pioneer – strong and brave and resourceful and kind and patriotic, and a wonderful father who played the fiddle to serenade his family.

And when I was reading the books – when I was nine and 10 – Pa seemed like the best dad ever.

After watching Prairie to Page, I’ve revised my opinion.

“Pa” was Charles Ingalls, born in 1836.  He’s pictured here with his family in 1894:

Left to right: Caroline (Ma), Carrie, Laura, Charles (Pa), Grace and Mary.

Revised my opinion…why?

Prairie to Page was an eye-opener about good ole Pa.

Ingalls would have been 25 in 1861, the year the Civil War began.  In 1863 the U.S. Congress passed the Conscription Act, requiring all men between the ages of 20 and 45 to register for the draft.  Yet as we see in the film, according to Wilder biographer Caroline Fraser, Ingalls never served his country, was never in the military.

Doesn’t sound all that patriotic to me.

And despite all the other glowing ideals that Wilder attributed to her father, it becomes very apparent in Prairie to Page that Pa Ingalls was…

A flake:

He got jobs, but somehow they didn’t work out.  He tried farming, repeatedly, but that didn’t work out, either.

And he moved around – a lot – dragging his family with him. 

He’s quoted in Wilder’s books as saying, “My wandering foot gets to itching,” and sounding proud of it.  Ingalls’ “wandering foot” eventually took the family more than 2,000 miles, most of it by horse-drawn covered wagon and on foot.  Here, according to mprnews.org, is a map of their “wandering” before Laura, 18, married Almanzo Wilder in 1885:

And poverty followed the family’s every step.

One story that never appeared in the Little House books was Ingalls having to sign a document in front of county officials declaring that he was “wholly without means.”  This earned the near-starving family a barrel of flour.

Wilder also didn’t write about the time when she and her sisters were hired out for domestic work at a local hotel to help support the family.  

The first known photograph of the three eldest Ingalls sisters, taken around 1879 or 1880. Left to right: Carrie, Mary and Laura.

Or when Ingalls woke up everyone in the middle of the night, packed their meager belongings into a wagon, and left town to avoid his unpaid debts.

Then there were Ingalls’ bad decisions, like building a cabin on land in Kansas, ignoring the fact that the land belonged to the Osage Indian Reservation.  It was not open to settlers – or “squatters,” as they were called – but he built there anyway.  When rumors circulated that U.S. soldiers were going to sweep illegal homesteaders off the land, Ingalls packed up the family and wandered on – again.

“By the time Laura was 15,” said a film interviewee, “she’d lived in 14 different homes.”

As the American Masters’ synopsis put it,

“Though Wilder’s stories emphasized real life and celebrated stoicism, she omitted the grimmer and contradictory details of her personal history:  grinding poverty, government assistance, deprivation…”

Doesn’t sound like an idyllic “Little House ” childhood to me.

There’s much more in Prairie to Page, including Wilder’s racism (“There were no people; only Indians lived there”); the death of her younger brother, Freddie, never mentioned by her; and the extensive involvement of Wilder’s daughter, Rose, in the Little House books, the first of which was published in 1932.  Wilder wrote, but Rose edited, added, deleted, and coached Wilder throughout the process.  To the point that, as another interviewee put it, “Without Rose, there would have been no Little House books.”

The mother/daughter collaboration is widely known now, but back then, it was a secret.

Laura Ingalls Wilder had a lot of secrets.

Wow, Does This Look Good!

I happened across the above photo online.

This dish did look good.

And it wasn’t complicated, though it contained an ingredient I’d never heard of:  Campbell’s Sweet Potato Cooking Soup.

I put together my list – the soup, chicken, frozen southwest vegetables, black beans, siracha hot chili sauce…

I couldn’t wait to smell it cooking.

I couldn’t wait…

Wait.

Go back and look at the soup can.

Notice anything?

“Potato” is misspelled.

No, Campbell’s didn’t do that – I did.

That “e” on the end of “potato” doesn’t look all that wrong, does it?

Vice President Dan Quayle didn’t think so, back in mid-June 1992.

It was an election year, and Quayle was on the campaign trail, as was his running mate, George H.W. Bush.

One of Quayle’s stops was an elementary school in New Jersey, and the setup was Quayle leading a sixth-grade student spelling bee.  He called on one of the kids, and asked him to write “potato” on the blackboard.  The kid did, and put down the chalk.

Then Quayle suggested the kid to add an “e” to the end of the word:

It was the “e” heard around the world.

The vice president, the person whose primary function is, if needed, to assume the role of president of the United States…

Couldn’t spell “potato.”

The media had a field day:

And this story has followed Dan Quayle around ever since.

Why am I writing about this?

In part, because I can sympathize with Dan Quayle.

I, too, have misspelled “potato,” adding an “e” to the end.

I have also misspelled “tomato,” adding an “e” to the end.

It doesn’t look all that wrong, and you know why?

Because we add an “e” at the end of “potato” and “tomato” to make them plural:

Potatoes.

Tomatoes.

Why do we add an “e” before that “s”?

For absolutely no logical reason at all.

That’s my conclusion, after visiting numerous websites trying to ascertain why.

The rule appears to be that we add an “es” to some words ending in the letter “o,” for example:

Potato/potatoes
Tomato/tomatoes
Veto/vetoes
Embargo/embargoes
Hero/Heroes
Torpedo/torpedoes

But we don’t add an “es” to all words ending in the letter “o” such as:

Auto/autos
Photo/photos
Memo/memos
Piano/pianos
Zoo/zoos
Taco/tacos

And there’s a bunch of words that end in “o” where I guess we just throw caution to the wind and spell them any damn way we choose, because both plural forms of spelling are considered acceptable, including:

Halos/haloes
Cargos/cargoes
Mottos/mottoes
Dominos/dominoes
Mosquitos/mosquitoes
Volcanos/volcanoes

No wonder English is known as one of the hardest languages to learn. 

It often makes no sense:  if a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?  And there are so many rules, and then so many exceptions to those rules, like the “s” vs. “es” examples above.

Then there’s the order in which we put words – we’d say, “An interesting little book” but not “A little interesting book,” because it just sounds right.  And pronunciation is so tricky, like silent letters.  Why is there a “k” in “knife,” if we don’t pronounce the “k”?

And do not get me started on homophones:  A bandage is wound around a wound.  And to, too and two.

So…

How did I go from talking about a recipe to bemoaning homophones, with the Tale of Dan Quayle in between?

It’s to say that I have, once and for all, finally and forever…

…Assimilated the fact that there is NO “e” in potato or tomato.

Unless those words are plural.

Or unless you’re a vice president.